Technology these days is better than ever, and it is so easy to keep in touch with family and friends back home that you may be tempted to stay at home rather than branch out and meet new people. That being said, the communication makes it a lot easier to stay connected to goings-on at home and reassure our parents that everything is fine, and that we’re having fun.
Koreans are all about technology, so I imagine that if you arrive without a tablet or smartphone (I wouldn’t recommend that, as they are much cheaper in the U.S.), you may soon find yourself with a new piece of hardware. We are an Apple family when it comes to smart devices, but also own a PC and know that Samsung devices are popular among locals here. Whatever you’re hooked up with, here are some recommendations:
There are great apps for video chatting if you have a webcam, tablet or smart phone. Our favorites are FaceTime for communication between Apple devices, Skype for PC webcams and non-Apple users, and Google Hangout for multi-person video chats.
Email is pervasive, so this should be a no-brainer, but email makes it incredibly easy to communicate. I’ve got a gmail account, as do many of my friends, so this is an easy back-and-forth.
We have found a couple of apps that allow us to text our friends and family back home. For communication between Apple devices, iMessage works perfectly, and with the upgraded capabilities of later model iPad and iPhones, you can connect your devices by registering the same email address to both your phone and tablet, which allows you to receive texts on both devices so you don’t have to constantly check both for messages.
To communicate with folks back home that don’t have Apple devices or smart phones, we use an app called HeyWire, which assigns you an American telephone number and uses data from your smart device to send texts and picture messages to people back home. Just make sure to change the settings to the U.S. (or your home country) as your location.
Also, Kakao is really popular here in Korea, which allows you to text your friends over wifi or data instead of using text messages. It is a lot like iMessage or What’s App, where the other user must also download the same app in order to talk, but the icons are much more dramatic and fun to use than the others.
To avoid the high cost of international calls, we purchased Vonage service with a telephone, which works through the Internet as J explained to me. We can call any U.S. telephone number and have unlimited minutes to talk for a low monthly rate. The only problem here is making sure friends and family back home remember the time difference and don’t call at 3 in the morning.
We also utilize a Korean telephone number that connects us to the U.S. when we’re on our cell phones and away from the Vonage number. Essentially, you dial the Korean number, and after it rings, an automated voice asks you to input the area code and number of the person you wish to dial (I believe it only works for American numbers) and it will then connect you without charging you or the person receiving the call any additional roaming or other surcharges, just the standard minutes you use by talking.
Snail mail is not the ideal method of communicating anymore, but we have successfully sent and received both packages and letters to family and friends back home in the states. My Christmas cards took less than two weeks to arrive (though the post office woman told me up to a month) and packages take around 7 days, sometimes up to 10. I would not recommend sending a package home, as it can cost anywhere from 20,000 won for a small, light package, up to 50,000 or more won for a larger, heavier package. Next year we will stick to American delivery services like Amazon, which does not ship to Korea, but can be useful to send gifts around the States. I have heard, though, that Amazon UK will ship some items to Korea that the American Amazon will not – standard amazon.com will only ship books to our address.
Also, be wary that if you do have a package shipped to you, they may require you to be home to sign for it since it will be international delivery, and the same was true for some of my recipients in the U.S. Also, if you’re sending gifts, beware that they label the box with a customs declaration form which requires you to state what’s inside, so don’t expect it to be a big surprise when they open the box.